It’s the shaky voice and hands. It’s the light sweat that forms on your forehead. It’s the butterflies and jitters or your quickened heartbeat. Nervousness has happened to everyone at one time or another, and for some it may even happen every time they’re in a certain situation. Sometimes, “acting natural” isn’t as easy as it sounds. Dr. Cindy Smith, senior lecturer of Public Oral Communication at IU, and Lauren Little, Media School career advisor, spoke to INside Magazine about how to “act natural” in different settings, and how they grew comfortable doing so.
In Front of a Crowd
Smith said that it is normal to be nervous about speaking in public, but it is important to remind yourself that your goal is to communicate rather than perform.
“The audience wants to listen to a real person, and they want you to succeed,” Smith said. “If you think of speakers you really enjoy, perhaps a professor, pastor or journalist, I bet you would say that they’re authentic and sincere, even if they aren’t perfect every second. They are themselves, and that’s most important.”
Smith said that the fear of being judged and critiqued is another reason why it is hard for some to “act natural” while speaking in front of a crowd.
While Smith teaches Public Oral Communication, she said she once delivered a bad speech at her best friend’s wedding. She said she was trying to compete with the best man’s speech — which was “hilarious.”
“Then it was my turn and, honestly, I hadn’t prepared enough,” Smith said. “I don’t even think I had one note card. The only thing I remember was offering the marriage advice of ‘have fun.’”
But Smith said it takes time to get comfortable when speaking in public, and she still gets nervous.
“The more I get to know people who will be in my audience, or think about what they may be concerned about or feeling, the more comfortable I become,” Smith said. “It’s really not all about me, it’s about the people I’m speaking with. That shift of focus can really help.”
In Front of an Employer
While public speaking is a fear for some, interviews with potential employers are a fear for others. But Little said that being nervous is natural, because people want to make a good first impression.
“The nerves usually set in because you’re anticipating a situation that you don’t have much control over,” Little said. “It’s the perfect combination that makes many of us feel excited when we scored the interview then followed by immediate panic.”
She said that “acting natural” during an interview starts before the interview with preparation. She suggests that when preparing for an interview, one should research the company’s mission statement/values and practice interview questions.
“For me, I write down a few questions and put bullet points of key thoughts under each,” Little said. “Then I practice answering the question. I’ll let you in on a secret: don’t just practice the words, practice in front of a mirror. What do you look like when you answer the questions?”
Immediately out of her master’s program, she said she interviewed with a panel of 10 people for a position she really wanted. Little said she felt like she was on trial and in result, answered the questions defensively.
She said had she taken the time to relax and form positive answers, she would have left feeling differently.
She suggests that job candidates arrive to an interview about 15 to 20 minutes early. This will help one collect their thoughts and allow them to do deep-breathing exercises (which helps her calm down).
“Employers tell me time and again they want you to succeed,” Little said. “Interviewing for a new candidate is just as hard for them as it is for you.”